Demagogues were rampant in the Senate last week, forcing votes on two inflammatory and meritless proposals. The yahoos were turned back both times, and Sen. Mark Pryor helped with the turning. The state’s largest newspaper, evidently disapproving of courage and common sense in an elected official, responded with an editorial critical of Arkansas’s junior senator. Pryor’s colleague, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, could summon only enough valor for one roll call, caving pitifully on the other.
Lincoln voted for the proposed repeal of the estate tax. The super-rich and their legislative arm, the Republican Party, have long agitated for repeal, misrepresenting the tax as a “vicious” form of double taxation that necessitates the sale of family farms and family businesses. But 99 percent of all estates aren’t large enough to be subject to the tax, and the forced sale of family farms that Lincoln bleats about is entirely illusionary. On the other hand, the contributions to charity encouraged by the estate tax are very real, and their loss will be very painfully felt if the tax is repealed.
“Double taxation” is not unconstitutional, immoral or unusual. The paychecks of millions of American workers are taxed more than once. The important principle of fair taxation is that it be based on ability to pay. By that measure, the estate tax is the keystone of a progressive tax system.
Repeal of the estate tax would cost hundreds of billions of dollars that are now used for health care, education, defense and other programs. As Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families says, “If the estate tax were repealed, the wealthiest would benefit while those who are less well off would be left to make up the deficit or bear the brunt of a higher national debt.” This is more of the class warfare that President Bush has waged ruthlessly. And far more effectively than the war in Iraq.
The other vote was on a brutal proposition to amend the Constitution by banning same-sex marriages nationwide. Many states, including Arkansas, already have their own laws prohibiting same-sex marriages, but the most ardent homophobes fear that some gay couple somewhere may yet be living in peace. Members of Congress who support the amendment do so from political not religious convictions. They devoutly believe that “gay marriage” can be used to advantage in the upcoming elections. Karl Rove, the chief Republican strategist, has said as much. Such people would embed discrimination in the United States Constitution, transforming that great protector of individual liberties into a tool for persecution of the individual.
Pryor and Lincoln joined 41 other senators in voting against the amendment. An alarming forty-nine senators voted for it, though that was still short of the 60 needed to advance the amendment further.